Alex & Red and its sister firm The Alexander Group have been reaching out to essential workers—those whose jobs cannot be done from the relative safety and comfort of home—to gather first-hand accounts of working on the front lines of a pandemic. These essential employees have a job to do and, although aware and wary of the risks, are determined to do it. They are nurses, firefighters, grocery store clerks, and the people who care for our pets. They are our neighbors, friends and family members. And we are grateful for their service.
Here is the final installment of our four-part salute to front-line workers:
Julie, an Oncology Nurse in Texas
I am an oncology nurse for a large private oncology practice with multiple locations. I work with two other nurses at my location administering chemotherapy to patients. We also handle the scheduling, take calls, check in with the patients by phone, schedule biopsies and other procedures, and I do a lot of paperwork!
Since the onset of COVID-19, I gown up like an astronaut every time I see a patient, and I wear a mask and gloves all day. I ask patients a lot of questions about symptoms and, if they have a fever over 100.4, the patient must consult with one of the doctors. In our line of work, it is difficult to keep a distance of six feet at all times, so masks are critical. Everyone in the office has their temperature taken each day. As soon as I get home, I wash my clothes and take a shower. I pretty much go to work and come straight home. I have a teenage daughter at home who I don’t want to get sick, so I take precautions.
Patients have to come in alone now, which can be terrifying for new or elderly patients. I know all of the patients and their family members, and the hardest part of this “new normal” is not being able to hug or comfort them. I’m a big hugger—I love to hug.
Chemotherapy can’t be delayed due to COVID-19. Time is everything with cancer, so waiting it is not an option. It could be a matter of life and death, so I continue to care for patients and administer chemotherapy because we are able to do so safely. I am not worried about getting sick. My biggest fear is being put on a ventilator, but I simply don’t allow myself to think about it. I believe that the best thing I can do is take precautions to stay safe, and continue to work and see patients.
Carley, One of Three Owners of GOfetch, a Dog Daycare, Grooming and Boarding Facility, California
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an average of 45 dogs a day for day care, and 15 to 30 dogs for in-home training sessions per week. The week following the “Safer at Home” order, our daycare numbers dropped 90 percent. Then, the call to close all non-essential businesses was made, and things took another turn for the worse. We made a call to the mayor’s office to confirm that we qualify as essential, and then started researching our options. Thankfully, (my co-owner) Katherine applied immediately for both of the small business programs. Even with cutting all costs possible and letting go of our hard-working staff, outside help was going to be necessary to keep our doors open.
The initial lockdown was tough because of all the unknowns, the constantly changing conditions and state orders, and wondering when business would start to increase again, but our essential function is still the same: to support our clients.
All of our clients are navigating these new conditions, and we feel our services are more important than ever. Clients who are first responders, medical staff and other essential employees are working longer hours. We walk or board pets to help those who are busy or sick. Our shuttle service with curbside pickup and drop off protects our clients who are immunocompromised, high risk or uncomfortable leaving the house. Daycare is important for those working from home—and possibly balancing home schooling as well—who may not have time to properly exercise their pup, especially while the dog parks are temporarily closed.
In the beginning, we worried about keeping our doors open for our clients, but with time and by developing a new normal, we have found our groove again. We realized that, collectively, we had been holding our breath, and it felt good to exhale. We are grateful to be open and operating. This crisis will change our business going forward, but we are committed to evolving with it and continuing to provide good, reliable care for the dogs of our community.
Kate, Crew Member, Trader Joe’s Grocery Store, Texas
I started working at Trader Joe’s in 2014. I was a stay-at-home mom for many years, but when my children got to a certain age, I decided to go back to work. Trader Joe’s was my first choice. It doesn’t operate like a traditional grocery store in which employees are hired to work in a specific role or department. Here, crew members work in every part of the store. You could start your morning off working the load (emptying the truck, breaking down pallets of food and then stocking the shelves), move to register for the next hour and then write down orders for the store or retrieve carts by the end of a shift.
We are putting our health and safety on the line to serve them, and I plead for compassion and kindness.
Policies have changed a lot since COVID-19. One of my jobs now is to be the “bouncer” at the door, which means I greet customers as they enter and advise them about new store policies. For instance, we used to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags; not anymore. Instead, we tell them that we’re happy to bag their groceries with our paper bags or put items back into the cart and let them bag their items in their reusable bags outside. I’m also asking customers to be mindful of the people waiting to get in the store, encouraging them to shop alone since we limit the number of people in the store, and to practice social distancing.
The first hour is Senior Citizens’ Hour so I also ensure that our early morning shoppers are 60 years or older. It’s funny because everyone wants to present their ID, but I tell them that we believe them (laughing). I love the fact that we are taking care of our elderly, and as word spreads, we are seeing more and more senior shoppers. Often this is the only time they get out and see other people, other than those with whom they live. I like being able to talk to these people and chat them up. We don’t necessarily talk about coronavirus; we just talk about life.
The most important message I share with our shoppers is that all the crew members inside the store our working by choice. We are putting our health and safety on the line to serve them, and I plead for compassion and kindness. Most of our customers are very appreciative and concerned for our safety, but some don’t roll with the new store policies so easily. You’d be surprised by some shoppers’ reactions to not using their own bags, for example—some are actually offended.
Believe it or not, the pandemic has not increased sales for the store. Sales increased in the early days because the store was packed but now that we’re limiting the number of customers in the store, from what I’m hearing, we’re breaking even. This is probably partially due to a $2-per-hour increase for all hourly employees and the increased expense of providing all employees with protective gear and installing plexiglass around the registers. Like any other store, there are those items that sell out first like paper products, hand sanitizer, frozen items and baking products, but most other food items stay well stocked as we get deliveries every day.
I’d go stir crazy if I wasn’t working now that my kids are grown or almost grown (laughing). I love my job, and I enjoy my coworkers. I like being able to bring joy and happiness to our customers, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I’ve learned through the years and after going through Hurricane Harvey, that when push comes to shove, I want to be that person who pulls herself up by the bootstraps and is a hero during tough times instead of hiding in fear. I would much rather be on the front lines, do what I can, and know that I’m helping.
Weldon, a Firefighter in Texas
I am a fire engine operator in Texas; I drive engine 75 for the local fire department. I have a degree in accounting, but I chose firefighting instead because it is my passion. In this job, I have the ability to help people no matter their walk of life. We help people when they need it even if it’s not a true 9-1-1 emergency. That’s the best part about my work—helping others.
The job has changed drastically since COVID-19. We need a mask and goggles prior to every run. This causes delays getting to the scene, which can be stressful. In the event of a cardiac arrest, for example, we can’t just initiate CPR. We have to gown up and mask up before entering the home. We even wear surgical masks at the station, and only personnel are allowed in the fire station now. Social distancing isn’t a big challenge, but we can’t hang out together and joke around like we usually do.
In the past, as firefighters, we put the safety of the citizens ahead of our own. Now we must consider our own health and take precautions. We have never thrown caution to the wind, but now we realize that placing our own health and safety first is the best way to protect the citizens of this city.
I had an exposure to COVID-19 on March 29 and isolated myself for two weeks. Someone I worked with was symptomatic, though I never had any symptoms myself. Luckily, nothing developed, and getting bored while stuck in isolation was the only consequence of that exposure. Honestly, I’m not that concerned. I feel that if we take precautions to keep ourselves healthy, we should be ok.